On self-exclusion in gambling, but not only

By Dan Iliovici, Vicepresident Rombet

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Simon Vincze in Vilnius, at Mare Balticum Gaming Summit ’22, and this interview is intended as a follow-up on our responsible gambling panel from this very interesting event.

Simon, why gambling?
To be completely honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. (laugh) A company was looking for a “Project manager for exciting global opportunities” and because the requirements fit my skills, I applied full of anticipation considering the mystery that surrounded the position. Little did I know that I would end up working in an industry I knew nothing about, overwhelmed by the tons of information about the role that came afterward. Thankfully, my initial hesitation was quickly replaced by the thrill of Casino Guru’s work as well as the possible impact of my future projects.

In just a few words, who is Casino Guru?
Casino Guru is the most extensive database and source of information about online casinos. We provide expert ratings and reviews of over 4,000 online casinos and offer additional content such as bonuses, games, news, guides, and, most recently, problem gambling help organizations. In addition to that, Casino Guru runs a comprehensive complaints resolution center with roughly 500 new complaints every month and operates one of the biggest community forums. On top of that, we run an affiliation business with some of the brands in our database.

What makes your company unique on a very dynamic affiliate market?
We are strictly a data-driven company with a clear code of conduct based on a fair and responsible approach. Each online casino in our database has a reputation rating which basically reflects how reliable the casino is for players. We read Terms & Conditions of every online casino in our database, calculate revenue, check complaints and blacklists, and now also scan the availability of responsible gambling tools to give our visitors a chance to make informed decisions. The fact that no business deal can change our reputation rating is tough for some operators to accept, but to this date, we have managed to convince more than 150 of them to change their approach in order to increase it. I’d say that’s pretty unique.

What is your role at Casino Guru?
I am currently leading projects connected to sustainable online gambling and the reduction of gambling-related harm. I also work with a team of content writers, designers, and programmers to compose tangible things such as websites, articles, or various tools for those seeking help. Moreover, I am involved in most operations related to safer gambling, and I also work hard on gathering intelligence across our departments in order to implement it in my projects. These include the notorious Casino Guru Academy and the Global Self-Exclusion Initiative.

Why self-exclusion? Please describe your approach to this Responsible Gambling (RG) instrument.
Firstly, the gambling environment is radically different these days. With online gambling becoming increasingly more accessible, it is crucial to ensure a safe gambling environment for all parties involved. Nowadays, fulfilling the need to gamble with a phone in a pocket is only a matter of seconds, and self-exclusion represents a crucial point between the intention and execution of gambling activity. Secondly, in today’s global day and age, I am convinced that a functional international self-exclusion scheme has the potential to reduce gambling-related harm significantly. There is currently no option to self-exclude on a scale broader than a country-wide self-exclusion, but opportunities to gamble beyond that (domestic operators) are countless. That being said, I also want to stress that I do not think that exclusion is a magical cure to problem gambling. However, once a reliable barrier to gambling is on, taking additional steps to change one’s gambling behavior becomes much easier.

Each EU country has its own gambling regulation and some have also specific provisions on RG and self-exclusion. Even without a legal obligation, there are many gambling operators that have an in-house self-exclusion system. What would be, in your opinion, the best RG approach on self-exclusion?
Having some form of self-exclusion available is a strong industry standard adhered to by virtually all operators. It is almost the same as age restrictions – you will hardly find an operator without the “18+” in their terms. However, less regulated markets usually operate in an MVP (minimum viable product) mode, meaning that the self-exclusion tools they implement are very lightweight. Moreover, at more regulated markets, specific provisions for self-exclusion at individual regulators are considerably different. Based on these facts, I guess it is difficult to say what the right approach is. From my experience, however, I believe that self-exclusion should be clear, frictionless, firm, and accompanied by additional actions, such as treatment or controlled self-education.

For online gambling, the self-exclusion system is relatively feasible. But what about the traditional land-based operations, where player anonymity is almost ubiquitous?
I must admit that we have limited experience with land-based gambling and our global initiative currently focuses on online solutions only. However, during my journey of bringing this project to life, requests for an international self-exclusion solution in physical venues started to appear. I see this as a possible upgrade for the global scheme once it becomes operational.

The decision to self-exclude and, more importantly, to respect this decision, is up to the player. What is your perception on the player’s commitment?
I firmly believe that stripping players of any responsibility for their actions and gambling activity, is not the right way to go. However, when it comes to self-exclusion, the aspect of safeguarding is crucial. A player who signs up for self-exclusion ultimately says: “Help me get over this problem. I cannot handle it myself.” This decision often comes at a moment of truth about one’s problematic gambling behavior and is accompanied by a strong will to stop. Unfortunately, that feeling can quickly fade away, but the strong urge to play remains. Experts often say that the moment of exclusion is the right time to start working on a long-term change.

Education and prevention should be the pillars of responsibility, both for operators and players. What is Casino Guru’s approach on this?
Responsible gambling is mainly about prevention, which is why understanding what is going on during gambling is fundamental. The problem is that players do not like to hear about problem gambling until the issues arise, and unrealistic images of gambling are still widespread. To make gambling a sustainable activity for everyone involved, its paradigm must be changed. I like to use a comparison of gambling and the tobacco industry. Nowadays, everybody understands that smoking is harmful, and all smokers are aware of the risk. The good thing about gambling is that it is harmful only for some individuals. However, the majority of people are unaware of real gambling-related risks. Operators and regulators need to understand that it is in their best interest to create safe and responsible conditions for all players.

Regulators’ reactions and changes for requirements take time. How can other industry stakeholders accelerate this change?
Even though some examples show that self-regulation in online gambling is failing, I am still convinced that it has an enormous potential to make a considerable change. Especially because online gambling regulation is so fragmented, and the possibility to play online has limited barriers. Players from most countries with no online gambling regulation can already play at offshore providers. Sharing effective best practices with the rest of the industry is essential, and we are working on supporting this idea. Last year, we launched a Casino Guru Academy with free educational courses for online casino employees aimed at industry best practices, improving the player experience, and a fair approach to gambling. We reflect our experience from thousands of player complaints in the courses.

How do you rank an operator based on their RG approach? What should a responsible bookmaker do to get a better score?
As for the general reputation rating, the most negatively influential points come from predatory rules in T&C and unfair resolutions of complaints. Our responsible gambling rating is only one part of the overall reputation rating of each brand. It measures the availability of self-limiting tools such as deposit, time or loss limits, and the possible ways of self-exclusion alongside the possibility of withdrawing money after finalizing the self-exclusion process. More available tools mean better scoring, but several factors influence the calculation of a final rating. For example, it is impossible to obtain a very good (4/5) rating without the possibility to self-exclude directly in account settings. And as for your second question, the short answer is: just be fair and transparent with your customers.

The final question, which will remain between the two of us: are you happy with your work at Casino Guru?
Of course, I am very happy with it. And although I still struggle sometimes, I am glad that the unspecified job listing was not for something else. There is a long and thorny road ahead of the Global Self-Exclusion System to achieve its goals, but that’s alright. We expected that. What’s important is that the work we’re doing in Casino Guru has a lasting positive impact and is proving to be influential. Besides, there are plenty of companies and individuals in the gambling industry with the same goal, which fills me up with energy and drive to keep moving forward.

And the very final one – what are your future plans?
There are still several milestones we would like to achieve until the end of this year. Our Global Self-Exclusion Assistance Tool is currently in the development stage and should be ready for use during summer. I see a great value in the Tool for players with multiple accounts from different jurisdictions who want to self-exclude from all of them. Moreover, I am almost done forming an expert working group for the International Self-Exclusion Standards that shall be applied to the global scheme once it becomes fully operational. The idea is to develop generally applicable best practices for the self-exclusion process through a series of high-expertise consultations and workshops. Collaborative work will also be the basis for a new addition to our Casino Guru Academy: a responsible gambling course. We have a lot of experience from working with players through our forum and complaints sections, but a practical responsible gambling course requires a broader contribution. Besides that, I guess I will continue flying in between events, enthusiastically waving around flyers about the Global Self-Exclusion Initiative. (laugh)

Thank you so much for this interview, Simon, and I wish you success in everything you do!

Articolul precedentGLI to share Integrated Compliance Solutions approach at iGB Live!
Articolul următorNew games from Booongo, Retro Gaming, and Spinomenal available through APIgrator this June